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September 24, 2015
The mistaken killing of a Mexican tour group by the Egyptian military has once again brought into question Cairo’s ability to competently wage the current fight against Islamist fighters. The Egyptian government has blamed the incident on the tour company and has imposed a gag order on the media. Still, the incident has become a matter of discussion within Egypt and appears to have been used by some countries in the region as a means to making a greater point about the legitimacy of the regime in Egypt.
There still appears to some confusion about how the events unfolded and who should shoulder the ultimate responsibility for the killings. According to a report by the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, “Hassan al-Nahla, chairman of the Tour Guides Syndicate, has published a copy of the Interior Ministry’s approval of the Mexican tourist group’s trip to the Baharia Oasis, which refutes claims by the ministry of the contrary.... ‘Neglect and lack of coordination between the Interior and Tourism Ministries will cost incoming tourism a lot,’ the statement added, calling on the President’s office to order a thorough investigation into the tragedy. The Interior Ministry had said in a statement that the joint forces of the police and the army accidentally hit four SUV vehicles that turned out to be a convoy of Mexican and Egyptian tourists visiting the oases region of the western desert, killing 12 people and injuring 10 others.’“
The Egyptian government has been keen on containing the possible damage that the tragic incident might have domestically. It has imposed a gag order on the Egyptian media’s reporting of the killing, which, as the Daily News Egypt’s Amira El-Fekki points out, many Egyptians have taken in stride considering the poor record for freedom of the press in the country: “A media gag has been reinforced on Egyptian newspapers in the Mexican tourists’ shootings of last Sunday as the general prosecution is investigating the case....activists on Twitter mocked the ‘media gag order,’ because Egyptian officials had been lacking transparency on the matter....Such reactions come particularly because media gags have been applied in several other cases that have sparked public opinion controversy. Among those ‘banned cases’ were the shooting of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh in a peaceful protest, the death of lawyer Kareem Hamdy as a result of police beating, allegations of sexual bribery involving a judge, and even the recent ‘shocking’ corruption case of the agriculture ministry.”
Sometimes, social media commentary can turn quite acerbic, bringing into question Egypt’s ability to handle the current conflict against Islamic militants or the broader conditions in the country: “After the Egyptian army's deadly blunder in the Western Desert Monday, one thing is pretty clear — despite 12 deaths and a lot of questions, the country's military doesn't really plan on blaming any part of this attack on themselves....Sunday's incident has raised big questions about both the military and Egypt itself....And nothing really summed up all of that than a Facebook post by Egyptian activist Mahmoud Salem, better known by his blogging name, Sandmonkey....'The Pro-state crowd is blaming the Mexican tourists and the tour guides, claiming they ventured into an ‘unsafe’ zone...The anti-state crowd is decrying the ineptness of the security forces and the ramifications on our fledgling tourist industry... The truth is that none of that matters anymore....The pro-state crowd is right. The tourists are to blame. They did venture into an ‘unsafe zone’. It's called Egypt. Don't come here.’”
But it is not just the Egyptian media that has been critical of the incident and its aftermath. The Daily News Egypt’s Emir Nade provides a good summary of the reaction of the Mexican main dailies which have generally been rather critical of Egypt’s actions: “In a letter published by Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called for Egyptian-Mexican solidarity as both governments face violent domestic struggles. However the letter, re-published in leading Mexican papers on Wednesday, has done little to appease critical opinions of the Latin American country’s press over the Egyptian army’s killings of eight of their nationals on Sunday....In an article published in El Universal Wednesday, former Mexican ambassador to Egypt Hector Cardenas also spoke frankly, saying that Egyptian authorities ‘have been unable or unwilling to provide a satisfactory explanation for this tragedy.’”
The Qatari daily, Qatar Tribune, uses the tragedy to underscore the political fragility and rising insecurity in Egypt following Morsi’s ousting: “The world got an alarming look at Egypt's bumbling war against extremism this week after a military helicopter attacked a convoy of tourists, killing at least a dozen people, including eight Mexican visitors. Egypt is investigating, but from what is known, this should never have happened....It is no surprise that the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former army chief of staff who toppled Egypt's first democratically elected president in a coup in 2013, would try to shift the blame for the shooting....The attack is a tragedy for the victims and their families and also Egypt, which has been struggling to recover from instability and win back the vital tourist trade.”
As Al Ahram’s Ahmed Eleiba notes, the Egyptian military has continued unabated its fight against what its government considers terrorists and extremists, which means that it is likely that civilian tragedies will occur again in the future: “Sources in Sinai contacted by Al-Ahram Weekly say the area where the operation is being carried out remains sealed off from the rest of the peninsula....The operation has successfully closed off a number of villages to prevent terrorists from escaping to getaway points on the Mediterranean Coast or into the mountains of central Sinai where the rugged terrain and narrow wadis make ground combat difficult and offer many hiding places....Operation Martyr’s Right began on Monday, 7 September. It is the most ambitious counterterrorist operation launched in Sinai, an area in which terrorist groups proliferated in the wake of the 25 January 2011 Revolution, and consolidated their presence in the peninsula during the period of Muslim Brotherhood rule. Following the removal of Mohamed Morsi attacks targeting police and military personnel in Sinai rose sharply.”
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